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Zinka Milanov
In Recital

Zinka Milanov (soprano).
rec. 1943-55.
PRIMA VOCE NI 7948 [61:42]

Experience Classicsonline

Zinka Milanov In Recital. Zinka Milanov (soprano). rec. 1943-55. NIMBUS[GF]
Zinka Milanov In Recital
Giuseppe GIORDANO (c1753-1798)

1. Caro mio ben [2:54]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

2. Widmung [2:17]
3. Mondnacht [4:18]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

4. Am Sonntag Morgen [1:33]
5. Wiegenlied [2:13]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

6. Zueignung [2:00]
7. Freundliche Vision [2:51]
8. Allerseelen [3:40]
9. Caecilie [1:56]
Blagoje BERSA (1873-1934)

10. She Dus Dan (All Souls' Day) [4:36]
Josip PAVCIC (1870-1949)

11. Pastirica (The Shepherdess) [3:15]
Bozidar KUNC (1903-1064)

12. Ceznja (Longing) [3:19]
13. Strepnja (Quivering) [2:50]
14. The World is Empty [1:44]
Richard HAGEMAN (1882-1966)

15. Do Not Go My Love [3:29]
Songs of Yugoslavia (Croatia), arranged by Dr. Lujo Goranin
16. Na Bembasi (By Bembasi Waters) [3:09]
17. Gor cez jezero (By the Lake) [3:13]
18. Ko lani sem (When last year I passed by) [3:10]
19. Ukor (Maiden's reproach) [3:04]
20. Daleko m'e moj Split (Split, my hometown, so far away) [3:12]
21. Domovini i ljubavi (To my homeland an to my love) [2:59]
Zinka Milanov (soprano)
Bozidar Kunc (piano) (1-15); anon. piano and violin (16-21)
rec. 1955 (1-15); 1943 (16-21)

She was born in Zagreb, Croatia in 1906 as Zinka Kunc, and a quick look at the header might lead readers to believe that there was some kind of family relation between her and her pianist. And indeed there was: Bozidar Kunc was her elder brother. After her professional debut in Ljubljana in 1927 she sang for ten years at the Zagreb Opera and as a guest in Central Europe. Then everything changed. Edward Johnson, the Met Manager, heard her in the summer and on 17 December she made her debut in New York, singing Leonora in Il trovatore, as she had done at her 'real' debut. From then on she was one of the mainstays in the house for almost thirty years, excelling not least in the lirico spinto Verdian roles, in Andrea Chenier and as Tosca. She took part in a number of successful complete opera recordings and some months ago I reviewed another Nimbus disc with arias and scenes from Verdi operas, recorded in the mid-fifties: the same period in which the greater part of this recital was set down.

Hers was a rather large but not enormous voice, with ringing fortissimo. Her real forte was her ravishing pianissimo, her ability to spin a thin ethereal tone up high and float it with exceptional breath control. By the nineteen-fifties her voice quality had changed and she started to sound rather elderly. I have commented on this before and it has really nothing - or at least very little - to do with deterioration of the vocal resources but is signified by a change of timbre. In singing opera, backed by an orchestra, a slight widening of the vibrato is often blissfully masked. However with just piano accompaniment she is more exposed and the impression of someone who is approaching the ’sell by’ date is very near.

I know we react differently to voices and there is no doubt that she offers a lot of sensitive phrasing and good insight, but there is also a vibrato that in the next stage would be called a ‘beat’ and further on a ‘wobble’. The tone also tends to be shrill when under pressure.

There is still a lot to admire here. Schumann’s Mondnacht is lovely, and so is Brahms’s Wiegenlied, though possibly with too much portamento. She has deep understanding of Richard Strauss’s idiom, where especially Allerseelen is splendid.

In the songs by her fellow countrymen, including three by her brother, it is a further attraction to hear her singing in her mother-tongue. Bersa’s She Dus Dan is sung from the beginning with hushed intensity which is then allowed to grow. And all through this 1955 recital (tr. 1-15) there are many touches of an inspired lieder singer. Still one has the feeling that this is an agèd singer struggling hard to bring out the message of the songs.

Going back twelve years in time to the six Yugoslavian folksongs we find her in her real prime. She was already 37 and a mature singer but the voice is youthful, sappy and beautiful. She doesn’t have to labour the phrases and her golden tone just pours out effortlessly and naturally. Her voice also blends beautifully with the accompanying violin. And Good Heavens how she caresses the music with well judged rubato and that ethereal pianissimo. This is vocal art of the highest order! Moreover the songs are little gems, several of them with a Gypsy or Viennese stamp. Listen to the syncopated Daleko m’e moj Split. It is hard to imagine more superb singing.

These six songs were issued some years ago as fillers to Naxos’s Il trovatore with Milanov and Björling, though in a slightly different order, but here they are in the recorded order. The transfers are good and the 1955 sound in particular is excellent. Alan Bilgora’s liner-notes are identical with the ones for her Verdi recital with some added lines about the actual programme here.

Apart from the folksongs (tr. 16-21) I hadn’t encountered Zinka Milanov as a recitalist before and while I admire her obvious involvement and her lovely soft singing, there is too much compromising of vocal quality for a wholehearted recommendation. Generally speaking I would advise readers to buy the Verdi recital and then the budget-priced Naxos Trovatore to get one of the best recorded versions of that opera into the bargain. For diehard Milanov fans the present disc is of course essential.

Göran Forsling


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